Tag Archives: Wales

Race Review: Snowdonia Marathon (Marathon Eryri) 2014

This is my second Snowdonia Marathon, having completed the 30th anniversary race in 2012 (Previous Race Review) so I knew that this would be both a tough but amazing race.

Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth
Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth

My plan had been to try to improve on my previous time (and current marathon PB) and after sporadic training and the drain of running the North Downs Way 50 and Richmond Park Marathon the day after (Race Review) I had been making significant gains in my fitness and overall speed so was looking good for achieving my aim.

That was until around 5 weeks ago where those plans all came crashing down around me, at the start of a run around 400 yards in my right calf went and pretty much from that day to the start line of the marathon I had done no running (the actual total was 2 miles a week after the original injury where it recurred again)

My nice neat pile of kit
My nice neat pile of kit

Some frantic physio booking and praying to anyone that would listen I found myself at the start line of this years Marathon Eryri. I was with Gareth (who I ran the 2012 marathon with) who had also got aim of beating his time and marathon PB. To say I was nervous was an understatement, last time I ran I got 1 mile before my calf went again and there was the fear that I would get no further this time.

The race starts at Llanberis and follows the A4086, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. This is a pretty demanding climb and I was worried that the strain of the ascent would cause things to go horribly wrong.

Enhanced image showing the marathon profile
Enhanced image showing the marathon profile

With the count down underway there was nothing for it but to just hope I could make it to 18 miles under the cut off, if I could do this then I should be able to finish even if that meant a death march.  As the race started and we crossed the line I could already feel the lack of running had impacted me more that I had expected. My heart rate had spiked well above what it was in training and for the pace I was running even with the hill was not good. I voiced this concern to Gareth and said that if he wanted to go ahead he should, to his credit he said he would stick with me.

Start line of the race
Start line of the race

About  3 miles in was a water station, however as we arrived it seemed to be having issues as the cups were getting blown everywhere and it didn’t appear to have any water available. This was not a real issue as another water station was a mile or so further away at the top of the climb. Pushing on my heart felt like it was jumping out my throat and my hips and quads were aching already, however my calf seemed to be holding up so I focused on this positive.

After the top of Pen Y Pass it is then a fairly steep descent which allowed me to reduce the effort somewhat and try to bring things back under control. The road then gives way to some trail which was a nice break in the repetitive plod. I was keeping pace with Gareth by the number of walking breaks I was requiring was increasing and I could see that he could go faster. After a quick stop for me to sort a toe out before it blistered around 11 miles in I said to Gareth again that he has to go, I didn’t want to stop him from going for his goal especially after the support he gave at the Richmond Park Marathon.

I was fairly insistent and he agreed to go on ahead and he was pretty quickly gone from my sight. It was just after this that the heavens opened which combined with the increasing pain in my legs lead me to feel quite low. I pushed on though at a more moderate pace interspersed with walking.

One of the reasons I love this race is the locals who come out to support the runners, I remember passing a line of children standing in the pouring rain giving high fives to the runners as they passed. I obliged and it was amazing how that lifted me, I had reached 13 miles and I was damn well going to finish run, walk or crawl.

The Snowdon Ranger , 18 miles and inside the cut off

From half way to 22 miles it is undulating road, my run/walk strategy had turned into walk/run/hobble but I was still moving forward which was the important thing. The support from the crowds kept me going and I made a point of saying thankyou to everyone who offered their support.

22 miles is where the runners start the climb of Bwlch Y Groes, a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. I remembered this from last time and it was just as imposing, however here I found myself passing people on the climb. I was walking but walking at a determined pace. It was probably the fact that I knew I would finish the race whatever happened which gave me the extra boost.

The climb is not the hardest part though, the descent that follows is a quad smashing brute dropping all that ascent in about a mile. This was extremely painful and I was a hobbling mess at the bottom.

I normally have something left in the tank for a ‘sprint’ finish but this time I had nothing, I think a couple of people passed me at the end but I had nothing to respond with. I saw Gareth and he managed to get a photo of me as I passed

Finishing the race, getting passed in the process
Finishing the race, getting passed in the process

I crossed the line in 05:06:02, about 25 minutes slower than my PB but I had made it. I met up with Gareth and he told me that he had set a new PB (Read his blog on the race here)

To anyone who may read this who is wanting a marathon distance event to run then you couldn’t ask for a better event, the support from the crowds, the organisation, views and challenge of the climbs and descents set it apart from the rest. I am a trail runner and don’t generally do road events, but this is one that I will always make an exception for.

I will be doing it again next year, I want to run it at peak fitness and see what I can do, I urge you when it becomes available to sign up to do the same.

A selecton of images from the weekend:










5 days to go

Only five days to go until we are standing at the red phone box outside the Storey arms and now it is all about making sure my kit is ready and hope that I have trained enough (I haven’t, not with the weighted rucksack anyway)

Kit wise I am happy, trying to pack a rucksack out to hit the necessary minimum weight is quite a challenge (especially as up until now its always been about reducing weight) but I think I have got it nailed.

I actually took a punt last Thursday and bought some new walking boots that were on sale and too good a bargain to miss out on, I know it’s not never a good idea to use new kit but I managed a morning training hike around Box Hill and they performed really well.

I maybe could have done with half a size up as there was a little pressure when running downhill but after this event I will only really use them for actual hiking rather than running and my experience in the past with boots is to lose several layers of skin from my heels I have taken the view that toes are easier to tape up (who needs toenails anyway?)

Training Progress

It really does feel like I am getting my running mojo back and in the two weeks since my last post I have probably run more consistently than I have in months.

Last few weeks training

The easiest way to illustrate the change is to use a graph showing the increase since the end of August to now:

Distance weekly from week commencing 26.08.13 to week commencing 28.10.13
Distance weekly from week commencing 26.08.13 to week commencing 28.10.13

Throughout August and September my running was practically non-existent, battling injury and just general lack of motivation following the NDW100 DNF. Then around the beginning of October I was persuaded to enter the Avalanche Events Winter Fan Dance which spurred me on to get up and start running, and it has been going well. The first week was about getting back into the swing of things, after that a solid 31 miles the following week. W/C 21/10/2013 was my Birthday week and I had some time off (DIY and family time) so it dropped again, although I wasn’t unhappy with this as it meant I was allowing recovery. W/C 28th the weighted runs increased with pretty much all of them having me carrying 8kg of weight, culminating with a “run” on Saturday around Box Hill with the objective of getting some good ascent in the bag.

Saturday’s Training Run/Yomp
The route and profile of Saturdays training
The route and profile of Saturdays training

Despite weather warnings it wasn’t raining, although the ground was quite damp. The rucksack had around 8kg of weight in it plus another 2 litres (2kg) of water so it was a decent training weight, although to hit race day weight I need another 10kg in there!

Pace wise it wasn’t too bad, obviously with that sort of weight onboard it’s not going to be quick and ascending a hill weighted is something else entirely, on the Mickleham steps my heart was beating at around 160bpm and I was barely moving! It’s clear that adding an extra 10kg is going to make things even harder so it is all important I get used to going up with weight.

Saturday 02.11.13 stats

To help improve my training I have bought a Kettler 10kg weighted vest which has 8 1.125kg removable bags in it so I can tailor it to suit my needs. Also having these weighted bags means I can load my rucksack up in a balanced fashion, taking up minimal space and hopefully hitting the 20kg target (with kit, food, water etc) for race day.

Kettler Weighted Vest
Kettler Weighted Vest

I will do a review on it once I have had an opportunity to give it a thorough testing, its available on Amazon if your interested: Kettler 10kg Vest

Injury Update: It’s not all doom and gloom

With just over 2 weeks since I rolled my ankle I am now walking unaided, albeit with some Kinesiology tape strapping it up and cycling again. Running is not on the cards yet but I am hopeful that I will be able to get some running in prior to the Trail Marathon Wales on the 22nd June.

Regarding the TMW, I am going into it in the mind-set of “it’s a training run” to the point where I will be using my SJ pack (still need to review it!!) along with the majority of my NDW100 min kit list, simply to test equipment, test hydration and all the things I was hoping to achieve on the NDW50. Also, I want to enjoy the views and the atmosphere, time is not a concern (although under any appropriate cut-offs is a must) and I plan on taking my camera to get some snaps while on the run.

So if you are running the TMW and see a guy kitted out like he is running a 100 miles, that’s me

Trail Marathon Wales website: www.trailmarathonwales.com

Trail Marathon Wales Sat 22nd June
Trail Marathon Wales Sat 22nd June

Race Review: Snowdonia Marathon 2012

The Snowdonia Marathon

‘The inaugural Snowdonia Marathon was held in 1982, and was conceived as a dramatic alternative to the numerous city and town races becoming so popular. The demanding and spectacular route, encircling Snowdon, Wales’ and England’s highest peak, has given the event a unique place in the annual marathon calendar ever since.’ (source www.snowdoniamarathon.co.uk)

Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth

So as the description states and the image shoes, this marathon is a run around Snowdon starting in Llanberis, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. Following this it is a downhill and both on road and a brief stint on trail, then undulating road past until reaching the second of the climbs at Beddgelert. After this climb it is more undulating road until hitting the biggest climb of the race at mile 22 just past Waunfawr. This climb continues until about mile 25 before a steep descent back into Llanberis and the finish line.

Enhanced image showing the marathon profile

With the profile giving an indication of the amount of climb involved, this is by no means you classic practically flat marathon with a view for setting PB’s if you have previously run marathons. To put it into perspective how a different a beast this run is, the London Marathon has a total climb of around 174 meters, just compare the below profiles to get an idea.

Comparing route profiles of London (above) and Snowdonia (below)

Going into this run, I knew it was going to be a challenging, with the potential for the weather to really add to the challenge!

Race Day

It had been a long time coming, with the NDW50 well behind me I had been waiting for this race to bring my running year to a close. Training for this specific event had been sporadic but I felt I had a base level of fitness following the work done previously so although I was uncertain of what time I would be able to achieve, I knew I would be able to get around.

I was going to be running this race with Gareth, who crewed the NDW50 for me, with this event being his first marathon. With race number on, kit ready and feeling the anticipation of the race starting we headed to the start line with about 1600 other runners.

Ready to start the run

The race started and we headed off, the course is pretty flat for the first couple of miles before hitting the climb up to Pen-y-Pass from mile 2 to 4. The first 6 or so miles went by in a flash, the general atmosphere of all the runners around us carrying us forward and our pace reflected this averaging about 10 minute mile, increasing slighty on the uphill but us making up time on the downhill. The one section that caused me what would be a repeated problem later on was the section after Pen-y-Pass of about 2km which was on a trail. I was wearing New Balance Minimus Road, zero drop shoes and with the rocks and uneven surface I was getting a lot of discomfort on my feet as the soles of these shoes are very thin and designed primarily for the road.

We got past this section pretty quickly and before we knew it we had hit the half marathon mark in 02:04:26, a  new PB for Gareth and I. As we crossed this milestone the second of the climbs was upon us, heading out from Beddgelert. As the legs were starting to feel it we opted to walk this hill, although when I say walk it is more of a march so as to minimise the impact on our time. With this hill out the way from mile 15 to 22 the course undulated along the road heading Waunfawr. During this section we were experiencing the support of the local people, with kids and adults shouting their support and offering high fives. This really kept us motivated, particularly as my choice of zero drop shoes may have been a step to far. My arches were starting to suffer and with the balls of my feet getting sore maintaining the proper gait was getting harder and harder and I kept dropping to my heels which was causing further pain.

My problems were not going to get any easier as we hit mile 22 and the last (and biggest) climb of the race. After 22 miles the last thing you want to see is a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. This was punishing, there is no other word for it and we were not alone as other runners were suffering as well. We passed people who were struggling with injuries, trying to stretch out their legs and one runner who was throwing up (possibly the dodgy stomach that can come from too much carb gels). This 3 miles of pain was taking its toll and the decent into Llanberis was no better. Dropping from 376 meters to back under 116 meters in about 1 mile just destroys any remaining strength in the legs.

With the balls of my feet in agony and literally no strength in my arches it was a struggle to carry on but with the finish almost there I thought I was over the worst of it, I was wrong. With the finish now in sight both calf muscles cramped up and I literally couldn’t move. This is the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, Gareth who had carried on about 10 yards turned back and asked what was happening, I said cramp and for him to carry on. Gareth wasn’t having any of that and said we are going to finish it together, so I did the best to stretch and started running, both legs still cramping as I ran to get over the line.

Running to the line, legs cramping and in a lot of pain (Photo courtesy of www.sportspicturescymru.co.uk)

Crossing that line was the greatest feeling in the world, we had done the marathon despite the aches and pains and set a much better time that we anticipated. What topped it off was seeing my wife and kids waiting for me and giving them a hug just made the day even better.

Race done!
Would I recommend it?

In a word, yes. The organisation is great, the atmosphere fantastic and the route amazing. I myself am a trail runner at heart but this is one road marathon that I can see me doing again. If you have done a marathon in the past and are looking for a road marathon with amazing views and something a bit different (read significant climbs) then this is for you. It is a run that everyone should add to their bucket list.